The In Defence of Marxism circle in Israel/Palestine expresses its deepest concern as the bloodbath continues. While Israeli state-terrorism is acting against Palestinian militants and killing Palestinian innocents, at the same time the Islamic fundamentalists are killing innocents – women and babies – by using individual terror that will never lead to the liberation of the Palestinian masses.
In the previous week, twentyone Israelis were killed and more than 100 were injured in a despicable terrorist act carried out by Islamic militants against ordinary Israeli civilians.
The action was carried out in a bus, when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up. Most of the people on the bus, which was travelling from the Western Wall to the religious neighbourhood of Har Nof, were ultra-Orthodox Jews. Many were also reported to be children. Two buses were hit by the blast. One - on which the suicide bomber is thought to have set off his explosive device - was completely devastated, while the other - travelling behind it, had its windows blown out.
Following the suicide bombing, an Israeli helicopter missile struck a car in Gaza City on Thursday killing senior Hamas political leader Ismail Abu Shanab and two of his bodyguards, while injuring innocent civilians at the same time. A senior Israeli security source confirmed Abu Shanab was the target of the attack. The Times reported, "Ismail Abu Shanab was driving a gold-coloured station wagon when it was struck by two missiles fired from an Israeli helicopter… Hamas and Islamic Jihad said that they no longer felt bound by a three-month unilateral cease-fire they declared on June 29 and threatened retaliation. Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, and his Security Cabinet decided in principle yesterday to resume the practice of 'targeted killings' of Palestinian suspects".
The Times also added, "In June, Israel fired missiles at the car of another Hamas leader, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who escaped with minor injuries. Earlier Israeli forces raided Palestinian homes in the West Bank in search of suspected terrorists and bomb factories. Soldiers arrested at least 14 Palestinians in Nablus, including a member of Hamas caught with a large quantity of explosives, the army and witnesses said... Israeli troops also shot and killed a 16-year-old Palestinian boy in Tulkarem, according to witnesses. The Israeli army said troops were returning fire, but witnesses said the boy was unarmed".
And the perspective opening up is even worse. Yalon the Chief-of-Staff of the Israeli army declared yesterday that it is time to assassinate Hamas leaders in Syria. Thus the rulers of Israel are planning a new war in the Middle East. The US may want to prevent it but Sharon has shown that he is able to manipulate Bush to support his actions.
The United States - “the peace broker” - denounced the attack. The US administration stated, "We condemn this vicious act of terrorism in the strongest terms." US National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack said, "We call upon the Palestinian Authority to act to dismantle terrorist networks." At the same time McCormack declined to comment on Israel's decision to freeze talks with the Palestinians and its state terrorist actions.
The role played by the US should not be forgotten: after US imperialism brought the "democracy" of starvation, hunger, death, unemployment and poverty to Iraq. Its administration wishes to use the newly nominated Palestinian puppet-regime, headed by the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmud Abbas (who also condemned the Islamic-fundamentalist terror) and the gangster Muhammad Dahlan (the Palestinian defence minister), to create a new political reality in Palestine. The United States wants to replace the old bourgeois Palestinian leadership, headed by Yasser Arafat, by nominating a new leadership that will accept the Israeli demands for "peace." The problem they have is that in the end, this leadership proved incapable of winning any support whatsoever among the Palestinian masses. Sharon and his cabinet now want to get rid not only of Arafat but also of the new non-elected government and rule directly through mass terror.
Individual Terrorism: politics of despair
Marxists have always emphasized that individual terrorism is the opposite of the socialist perspective of mobilizing the masses to change the political reality and replace the capitalist social order. As in Ireland, Marxists, in the best traditions of Connolly and Larkin, have always counterposed mass action and the mobilisation of the working class to the tactics of individual terror such as those adopted by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). These actions reflected the politics of despair, of petty bourgeois nationalism which opposes the idea of the socialist transformation of society.
In his famous article "Why Marxists Oppose Individual Terrorism," written in 1909, Trotsky argued against the terrorist tendency within the anarchist movement which believed that by individual terrorist actions it would be able to fight the capitalist state. Trotsky wrote:
"Only the conscious and organized working class can send a strong representation into the halls of parliament to look out for proletarian interests. However, in order to murder a prominent official you need not have the organized masses behind you. The recipe for explosives is accessible to all, and a Browning can be obtained anywhere. In the first case, there is a social struggle, whose methods and means flow necessarily from the nature of the prevailing social order; and in the second, a purely mechanical reaction identical anywhere - in China as in France - very striking in its outward form (murder, explosions and so forth) but absolutely harmless as far as the social system goes."
"A strike, even of modest size, has social consequences: strengthening of the workers' self-confidence, growth of the trade union, and not infrequently even an improvement in productive technology. The murder of a factory owner produces effects of a police nature only, or a change of proprietors devoid of any social significance. Whether a terrorist attempt, even a 'successful' one throws the ruling class into confusion depends on the concrete political circumstances. In any case the confusion can only be short-lived; the capitalist state does not base itself on government ministers and cannot be eliminated with them. The classes it serves will always find new people; the mechanism remains intact and continues to function."
"In our eyes, individual terror is inadmissible precisely because it belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their powerlessness, and turns their eyes and hopes towards a great avenger and liberator who some day will come and accomplish his mission. The anarchist prophets of the 'propaganda of the deed' can argue all they want about the elevating and stimulating influence of terrorist acts on the masses. Theoretical considerations and political experience prove otherwise. The more 'effective' the terrorist acts, the greater their impact, the more they reduce the interest of the masses in self-organization and self-education. But the smoke from the confusion clears away, the panic disappears, the successor of the murdered minister makes his appearance, life again settles into the old rut, the wheel of capitalist exploitation turns as before; only the police repression grows more savage and brazen. And as a result, in place of the kindled hopes and artificially aroused excitement comes disillusionment and apathy."
Since its establishment, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) did not articulate any political or social programme of liberation for the Palestinian workers and peasants. It was built as a coalition between religious militants, Stalinists, liberals, Pan-Arabists, pro-Ba'athists and other reformists. In 1968 the organization adopted its charter calling for a democratic and secular Palestinian Arab capitalist state, in which the Jews who had came to Palestine after 1917 would live in the country as a religious minority with civil rights but with no right of self-determination. It specifically took a very clear position against the struggle of the working class. According to Article eight of its charter, “The phase in their history, through which the Palestinian people are now living, is that of national struggle for the liberation of Palestine. Thus, conflicts among the Palestinian forces are secondary and should be ended for the sake of the basic conflict that exists between the forces of Zionism and of imperialism on the one hand, and the Palestinian Arab people on the other.”
This charter could only push the Israeli workers into the hands of reaction, as it was clear to them that the PLO's charter could only be implemented by militarily defeating the Jews in Israel and transform then from an oppressor nation to an oppressed nation.
The left petit bourgeois of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine were not much better. They proposed a Palestinian Arab dictatorship of all the “patriotic” classes throughout the entire territory of Palestine that would be born after the military defeat of Israel. But Israel, heavily backed by American imperialism with real weapons of mass destruction, could not, and cannot, be defeated so easily. This was clearly shown in the 1973 war when the Egyptian army attacked and caught the Israeli Generals by surprise. Nevertheless following the initial phase of Egyptian advances the Israeli military smashed the Arab armies.
The demoralisation which spread among the Palestinians after 1973 led the mainstream in the PLO, the secular-bourgeois nationalist Fatah (headed by Yasser Arafat), to carry out terrorist actions against innocent Israelis inside and outside Israel's territory. Reacting to this, Israel, like the US in Afghanistan, invested money in providing the basis for the development of the anti-PLO political tendencies – the Islamic fundamentalists.
Without a genuine agenda of liberation, by using the methods of individual terrorism, the PLO could not advance the Palestinian struggle for liberation, but prepared the path of total submission to Zionism.
During the 1980s a strong tendency emerged among the leaders of the PLO; who favoured negotiation with Israel instead of the continuation of individual terrorism. They were encouraged by the Stalinist bureaucracy of the former Soviet Union, the Israeli Zionist left, the Communist Party of Israel, well-known leftists like Uri Avnery (today the leader of the Gush Shalom peacenik group) and well-funded organizations such as Peace Now, which became famous in the world for the mass protest it organized against the 1982 war in Lebanon after the massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugees camps.
The first Intifada of 1987 emerged from the frustration and the justified anger which exploded after decades of Israeli occupation. Popular committees of workers and youth were set up. It is important to note that the local leadership was not coordinated with the PLO leadership in Tunisia. Nevertheless, without a revolutionary Marxist leadership that could direct the anger and the frustration of the masses towards a revolutionary mass struggle for socialism, and which would offer its hand to the Jewish working class, trying to unite the struggle for national liberation with the class struggle inside Israel, the local “misleaderships” were subordinated to the general lines and tactics laid down by the bourgeois-nationalist leaders such as Halil el-Wazir (Abu Jihad, who was assassinated by the Israelis in 1989) and Yasser Arafat.
A few guerrilla actions and many terrorist actions were planned and carried out. However, these actions did not in any way threaten the rulers of Israel. The support expressed by Arafat for Iraq during the first 1991 Gulf War (and the subsequent effect of the defeat of Iraq at the hands of US imperialism) was used to advance the Oslo Accords which were summed up in a total sell-out of the Palestinian national demands by the same PLO who now began to change their clothes from paramilitary uniforms to silk suits.
Unlike the sect who acted for years as cheerleaders for the PLO, the Marxists were not surprised at this turn of events. Furthermore, the Marxist tendency gathered around the Socialist Appeal journal and the In Defence of Marxism web site, were absolutely right when they pointed out that this deal would simply give birth to mass support among the Palestinian workers and poor for the Islamic militants. Those inhuman "heroes" who used the despair of so many young Palestinians in order to carry out the politics of blood and suicide bombings, were the result of the Israeli oppression on the one hand and the Palestinian bourgeoisie's betrayal on the other.
Through the 1990s, until the second Intifada (2000) erupted, the Islamists were trying to build an alternative leadership to the PLO whose leaders were discredited in the eyes of the suffering masses. While these so-called “leaders” were accumulating their fortunes the Palestinian masses continued to suffer terribly.
Thus the new, young generation of secular-nationalists of Fatah adopted an Islamic-fundamentalist stance as it became clear that the settlements were not being dismantled and would not be dismantled, as the economic situation was not improving but rather worsening and while Jerusalem remained in the hands of Israel, and as the general ongoing, daily abuse of the Palestinians continued. This was the real cruel reality. It became clear to a growing number of people that the promised independent Palestinian state was pie in the sky.
And now after so many years of struggle, to any thinking person it is clear that under the existing order Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians will continue. However, the response the Islamists are proposing is the politics of national suicide. In the meantime Arafat's secular-nationalists are not offering any serious alternative and the US is fully backing the rulers of Israel.
Socialist Revolution is the Only Solution
While condemning the terrorist acts we should not forget for a moment that the swamp on which individual terror has grown and developed is the oppression the Palestinians have suffered for so many years. Israel itself in so many ways is the creation of the imperialists, who used the suffering of the Jews in the past in order to use them as a tool to control the Middle East.
The imperialists had no genuine desire to save the Jews from the terrible crimes of the Nazis. If they had wanted to they could easily have opened the gates and allowed the Jews to escape mass extermination. But that would not have facilitated the creation of a military outfit in the state of Israel. Thus they divided Palestine in 1947; in much the same way they did in India and in Cyprus in order to stimulate the birth of national hatred. They allowed Israel to annex Jerusalem, to build Jewish settlements, to impose total curfews, to starve the Palestinians and destroy their homes. They created, together with the formation of Israel, the very conditions in which Palestinian terror is growing.
The Marxists have always said that there is no solution to the problems the capitalists have created within the framework of a decaying capitalist world system. The carrying out of the democratic tasks, such as the solution to the national question, is falling on the shoulders of the working class. Only a Jewish-Arab working class united by a revolutionary struggle leading to a socialist society can get us out of this hell of the capitalist system. The only solution that can put an end to both the state terror and the insane individual terror is to be found through a federal socialist state within the framework of a socialist federation of the Middle East. Only within such a framework will it be possible to solve the question of the right of self-determination for the Palestinians, (including the right of the refugees to return to a homeland, while not necessarily to their old houses) and at the same time guarantee the Israelis a safe place in which to live and build a progressive culture in their own Hebrew language.
We will have nothing to do with the hired liberal intellectuals, such as Prof. Shelomo Avnery who try to justify the crimes against the Palestinians on the grounds that others have done the same. It is like presenting a defence case in court to a criminal charge of rape by saying, "But your honour others have raped this women as well. "
Only within a Socialist federal state could the Israelis live not as an oppressor nation dying of terror and counter-terror, but as brothers and sisters of the Palestinians where both people will have equal rights. Only such a system could provide good living conditions for all, within the framework of a nationalized and planned economy under the democratic control of the workers themselves.
This state would have be part of a socialist federation of the Middle East, because only the united power of all the oppressed layers of society led by the workers would be capable of opposing the counterrevolutionary forces of imperialism and its capitalist allies within the region. And even such a federation, in the long run, would have to be part of the process of world socialist revolution. If this were not the case then eventually it would succumb to the same process of degeneration that led to the strangling of the genuine ideals of October Revolution in Russia, and to the consequent rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy.
While we are working towards a genuine socialist solution to the problems afflicting the Middle East we can also take some lessons from the experience of the working class led by the Bolsheviks prior to the 1917 revolution. Against the pogroms that the Russian government organized against the Jews, the Bolsheviks organized workers’ militias that defended the Jews. This was in total opposition to Hertzel who after the Keshniev pogrom actually made deals with the Tsar’s Minister of Interior who had organized the pogrom. The agreement was to release money for the Zionist project in Palestine and in exchange Hertzel promised to help the Russian government by using the influence of the Zionists among the Jews in order to stop them from getting involved in the struggle against the Tsar.
Were there a Marxist party in Israel today with a mass base, uniting both Arab and Jewish workers, such militias (or workers’ defence force) could be organized to defend the Jewish neighbourhoods and the Palestinian neighbourhoods. Their task would be to resist state terror, beginning with the terror of the settlers, and at the same time to struggle against the individual terrorist tactics that originate in the Palestinian petty bourgeois. Such workers’ defence forces would have to be based on the Histadruth - the labour Federation in Israel.
Needless to say, all this requires a very different leadership from the present one. It would require a leadership committed to defending the genuine interests of the workers, and not one that is happy to make rotten compromises with the bosses. The place to begin campaigning for such a force would be in the workplaces, in the factories. It would most likely begin as a workers’ joint self-defence force in the factories in situations where workers are beginning to take over factories under their own democratic control as a response to the attacks of the bosses. In the struggle to defend jobs, wages and living conditions the call for workers’ unity would get an echo both among Jewish and Arab workers. This is the only real way of defending the Arab and Jewish workers against the bosses’ hoodlums on both sides.